Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Letter From Military History - December 2007

Originally published on Published Online: November 16, 2007 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

War and Memory

Paul Fussell, the distinguished literary critic, historian and combat veteran (as an infantry lieutenant he fought and was wounded in France in 1945) recently commented on some of the most affecting episodes in The War, Ken Burns' documentary of World War II.

Fussell is also known for his landmark 1975 book, The Great War and Modern Memory, a remarkably dense and subtle summary of how wartime experiences are remembered and written about. In it he posits, "Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected."

He might have added that nearly every war veteran is silent because every war is worse than expected. "He never talked about the war," is so commonplace an observation that it amounts to a cliché, as well as an epitaph. So rare is the voluble veteran who talks freely about combat that listeners might believe that person a fraud, akin to the pathetic wannabes who buy medals and lie about exploits with the Green Berets.

Still, it is essential that some veterans do step out of their silence, because the recorded experiences of war and every effort to understand military history are entirely dependent on memory—whether preserved in letters, unit histories or interviews. It is understandable that so many choose silence because, as Fussell notes, the experiences of war are so enormously different from normal life that it must seem impossible to do them justice. It may also require a heroic level of honesty.

The late David Halberstam recorded an instance of such honesty in his final book, The Coldest Winter. He described his interview with Sergeant Paul McGee, who'd survived—and remembered—his unit's experiences in Korea: "I went out and found his home, and for four hours it all poured out, what had happened in those three days at Chipyongni when he was a young platoon leader. It was as if he had been waiting for me to come by for 55 years, and he remembered everything as if it had been yesterday." That is the essential raw material of history.

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy